One of the criticisms leveled at the Occupy movement, which started in New York City this past September and spread across numerous cities across the US and the world, is that it lacks leadership. Those in Occupy Denver have found a creative solution befitting the movement.
In response to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s insistence that Occupy Denver choose leadership to deal with city and state officials, and inspired by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling a heckler this summer that “Corporations are people, my friend,” Occupy Denver’s General Assembly has elected a leader: Shelby, a three-and-a-half year-old border collie/cattle-dog mix.
According to the proposal at Tuesday’s General Assembly, “Shelby is closer to a person than any corporation: She can bleed, she can breed, and she can show emotion. Either Shelby is a person, or corporations aren’t people.” The proposal passed in only five minutes when she earned more than the required majority of votes. Shelby is the companion of Aaron “Al” Nesby, a 27-year-old filmmaker who has brought her to the protests every day for a month. The repeat visits endeared the crowd to her, which ultimately secured her win.
Occupy Denver’s press release announced the decision; “Shelby exhibits heart, warmth, and an appreciation for the group over personal ambition that Occupy Denver members feel are sorely lacking in the leaders some of them have voted for on national, state, and local levels.”
So while this move is obviously a satirical jab at the mayor’s attempt to dictate that a leaderless movement–founded on horizontally-structured direct democratic principles–adopt a leader, this rightly makes the case that animals deserve much more recognition of their consideration and respect than abstract human constructs like corporations. Animals share more traits with people–they are sentient, they are self-aware, they feel and show emotion and pain, form bonds with one another, have children, and have the will to continue to live–than the nonliving and intangible legal creations that have been afforded many of the same protections, rights, and status as human beings.
The Occupy movement already recognizes the role corporations have in the exploitation of nonhuman animals, and are working on ways to combat such corporate abuse in animal-rights-specific Occupy Work Groups in places like New York City, Seattle, LA, Vancouver B.C., and more. With the elevation of a nonhuman animal as the “leader” of Occupy Denver, this puts front and center to the public the idea that nonhuman animals are very much part of the 99% that is suffering at the hands of corporations that put profits ahead of lives. For too long they have been ignored and seen as mere commodities in service to human demand, so a “leadership” role can be the start of getting the greater public to think of nonhuman animals as the individuals they are, as our equals in feeling pain and emotion, as deserving to live a full life free of exploitation. The Occupy movement is attempting to create a model of a society where dominance and power over others do not exist, and Shelby can be the grassroots model of a movement to represent all of the 99%, all living beings–both human and nonhuman.
After she spent much of the rest of her first night in office celebrating (ie, napping), newly-elected leader Shelby will be making her top dog debut with other members of Occupy Denver in a meeting with Mayor Hancock and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and she also will be leading this Saturday’s “March Against Corporate Personhood,” and invites all other civic-minded dogs (and their leash-holders) to join. It’s high time to curb corporations, keep them on a short leash, and have them leave the animals alone.